SoftBank rolls out first Leica-branded smartphone in Japan

The Leitz Phone 1 sells for $1,700 and comes with a one-inch imaging sensor

Japan's SoftBank is rolling out a Leica-branded smartphone, Leitz Phone 1, exclusively for the Japanese market.

This will be the first branded smartphone by the German camera and optical lens maker, although it has previously lent its name and technology to phone camera systems used by brands such as Huawei and Sharp.

The high-end Android phone, which has been designed at Leica's studio in Munich and manufactured by Japan’s Sharp Corporation, will be priced from ¥187,920 Japanese ($1,700). SoftBank, which is run by the country's second-richest person, Masayoshi Son, began accepting pre-orders for the phone on June 18, which will go on sale after July, according to its website.

“Simple and easy to use ... and an elegant design that incorporates only the elements you really need. The back [of the phone] is finished with tempered glass, pursuing the functional beauty of Leica and the good feel when picked up,” SoftBank said.

Tokyo-headquartered SoftBank sells smartphones by various companies such as Apple, ZTE and Google through its mobile arm.

The Leitz Phone 1 comes with a 20-megapixel lens that has a one-inch imaging sensor, which is a similar specification to what users would expect from a high-end Sony or Nikon compact camera. It is only the third smartphone to use a one-inch sensor, which is traditionally used in professional cameras. Most smartphone manufacturers use much smaller sensors.

“The camera supervised by Leica is equipped with a one-inch high-performance image sensor, which is one of the largest … it is bright even in the dark, resistant to fast movements and allows you to take pictures with natural colours,” SoftBank said.

The Leitz 1 phone has a 16.7-centimetre organic light-emitting diode (OLED) display, offering improved image quality, better contrast and higher brightness, according to Softbank.

In May, Sharp launched the Aquos R6 smartphone in Japan featuring a Leica lens with a one-inch sensor. In 2014, Panasonic used the same technology in its CM1 Lumix smartphone. Huawei is also rumoured to be planning a similarly-sized sensor in its P50 Pro smartphone.

Leitz 1 weighs 212 grams and is powered by a 5,000 milliampere-hour battery that provides enough power to last more than a day. It has 12 gigabytes of RAM and 256 gigabytes of storage, the company said.

"With a one-inch sensor and Leica’s camera technologies, this SoftBank-backed phone looks really good from the hardware perspective,” Abbas Ali, managing editor of TechRadar Middle East, said.

“But the issue is ... cramming a lot of technology in very small modules in a smartphone compared with SLRs. Moreover, hardware is just half of the equation and the other half is software ... that is where companies like Apple, Google, Samsung and Huawei focus a lot.”

The latest OnePlus smartphone, the 9 Pro, offered similar features to Leica with very high-end lenses but did not perform well because the software wasn’t as good as comparable models, Mr Ali said.

“I have a feeling this [Leitz] will be great from [the] hardware perspective but it could fall flat on the software.”

Global smartphone production is projected to increase by about 9 per cent to 1.36 billion units this year, after falling 11 per cent in 2020 amid the pandemic-induced economic slowdown, according to Taipei-based market intelligence firm TrendForce.

Updated: July 7th 2021, 6:45 AM